With extensive and precise research, Florian Pumhösl delves deeply into the formal, global and social connections of architecture and other constructed spaces. Indeed, the result he presents to the public does not consist of facts, rather it is more of a visual system that operates like grammar. It seems to be both enigmatic and familiar. Pumhösl’s work is often linked to the abstract formal designs of modernity.
Pumhösl does not try to treat historic themes or artefacts in a relativistic or even in a historicist fashion. He transfigures ancient objects found at antique trade shops to images placed on a wall, displaying them in front of a black background. These assemblages are employed in the manner of abstract painting, as if solely surface and colour mattered. Thereby, the putative representation is replaced with its subject. Through this inversion of the standard relationship between image and reference, the Austrian artist questions the determinative image-making traditions of the past century. The contradictory, exciting field in which he works links economy, form and political constellations.
What does it mean to speak of progress anyway — and how is significance in art produced? With a museological study of nature, Pumhösl brings the question of the objectivity of image production into play: he confronts the desire for representation latent in all art, however, with its explicit opposite: the absolute enigma of a self-referential motif. The represented item is not commented on — and, therefore, through this openness can mean anything, thus becoming a cipher for a universal language. By instituting this metaphysical dimension, Pumhösl rubs salt in the wounds of Modernism: the resolutely mathematical logic of technical design brought not only groundbreaking architecture, but also the industrialisation of war.
Primarily known for his innovative nature recordings, director Percy Smith was a pioneer in the field of scientific film-making. During the years of the first World War, he shot aerial views of battlefields for British special forces. The horror of this first “industrialised” war was not shown there, instead the exceedingly diagram-like overviews display soldiers, tanks and dugouts. A short time later, such aerial photographs fired the imagination of abstract painting: Piet Mondrian and Oskar Schlemmer were both fascinated by this new perspective of sight.
Florian Pumhösl refers in a newly developed project to “Fight for the Dardanelles“ by Percy Smith. This 16mm film is shown in the functionally designed ferroconcrete-architecture of Robert Maillart at the Kunst Halle — a technology which was considered to be the paradigm of architectural engineering at the beginning of the 20th century. The project of modernity is not presented here as a completed period or as an ironic quotation, rather, it is demonstrated to be an ongoing process of debate between our technologically engineered world and the metaphysical experiences in life.
Location: Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Davidstrasse 40, CH-9000 St. Gallen